HC Deb 01 December 1949 vol 470 cc1314-6
48. Sir W. Smithers

asked the Minister of Agriculture what are the qualifications as to prestige and authority in their counties of the 12 voluntary members of county agricultural executive committees.

Mr. T. Williams

Having regard to the provisions of the Agriculture Act, 1947, concerning the constitution and functions of the committees, I endeavour to select persons who are conversant with the various aspects of agriculture in the county or who have administrative experience, and whose knowledge, ability and standing in the county are recognised by the industry.

Sir W. Smithers

In view of the fact that the county committees in England and Wales employ 10,142 people at a cost of £3,434,481 per year, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that this enormous expenditure is justified by any—if there is any—increased production?

Are not the laws of supply and demand, and the bankruptcy courts, better tests of efficiency?

Mr. Williams

I think I shall be able to justify the expenditure on labour and machinery in a subsequent reply.

50. Mr. Geoffrey Cooper

asked the Minister of Agriculture in view of the fact that the figures recently published in each county of the staffs employed by the county agricultural executive committees show no relation to the size and number of farms in each county, nor the area covered, what steps are taken to keep a check on the size of these staffs.

58. Brigadier Medlicott

asked the Minister of Agriculture what arrangements exist for ensuring that the size of the staff of each county agricultural executive committee bears some relation to the size and number of farms in the county.

Mr. T. Williams

The staff requirements of county agricultural executive committees do not depend solely upon the factors mentioned by the hon. Members: to a considerable extent they are governed by the types of farming, the amount of contract work undertaken for farmers, and the area of land cultivated by the committee. The staffs of committees are under constant review in the light of all these factors.

Mr. Cooper

In view of the rather serious report of the Select Committee on Estimates dealing with this matter and other matters and in view of the rather small Organisation and Methods section in the Ministry of Agriculture, would my right hon. Friend consider inviting the Organisation and Methods division of the Treasury to check up on this matter, particularly in regard to the methods used, costs, and the number of staff involved?

Mr. Williams

A Committee on organisation has been set up and has already had two sittings.

Mr. Sargood

Has there been a reduction in the number of the staffs referred to?

Mr. Williams

There has been a material reduction during 1949. A special team of staff inspectors has visited every county for the specific purpose of ensuring that the staf1 employed is no more than is required to perform the essential work.

53. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is aware that the time taken for consideration of applications under the Agricultural (Goods and Services) Act, is creating difficulties for farmers; and if he will give county agricultural committees discretion to deal with schemes not exceeding £500.

Mr. T. Williams

My county agricultural executive committees may supply ordinary services without any monetary limit to their discretion, and may supply goods up to a value of £300. During 1949 no more than six cases have been referred to headquarters as exceeding this limit and these were dealt with promptly. I have no information as to any undue delay in the counties, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that each application has to be carefully investigated.

Mr. Collins

Can my right hon. Friend say what is the average time taken for consideration of these applications?

Mr. Williams

Not without notice. If my hon. Friend has any case where there has been undue delay I shall be glad to look at it.

57. Commander Maitland

asked the Minister of Agriculture if he proposes to revise the sick pay scheme introduced during the war for the benefit of employees of agricultural executive committees; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. T. Williams

A revised scheme is now being put into operation by which agricultural workers in the employment of county agricultural executive committees will be entitled during any period of 12 months to sick pay for five weeks on full wages, less National Insurance benefits, and for a further four weeks at half wages, less National Insurance benefits, but subject during the latter period to a minimum payment by the Committee of £1 per week in the case of men and 10s. in the case of women and juveniles.

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